October 22, 2014

Four Librarians, Four Ereaders, One Month

As LJ gears up for its virtual summit, Ebooks: The New Normal, on October 12, four librarians at Oregon State University give their takes on four ereaders patrons are using right now

By Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, Jane Nichols, Uta Hussong-Christian, and Laurie Bridges

Ereaders, image via engadget

Ereaders, image via engadget

Public libraries have been seeing an influx of ereader owners since at least 2007, when the first Kindle was unveiled. But academic libraries like ours have not received as many questions related to ereader ownership and access to academic content. As a result, many academic librarians’ knowledge of ereaders—and services for patrons who want to get library materials onto their ereaders—has been lackluster at best.

While many of our immediate family members own ereaders, most of our librarian colleagues do not. Like many libraries, ours have Kindles to lend, but is it enough to borrow an ereader? Or should librarians own an ereader to truly understand its place in the library, its functionality, and its future?

To explore this question, we designed a year-long longitudinal study, now underway, on the innovation adoption process as it relates to ereaders and our colleagues. Oregon State University Libraries supported our study by granting us a competitive internal award to purchase 34 ereading devices to give to Oregon State University Libraries and Press staff members. Part of the research process has been immersing ourselves, as the principal investigators, in the ereader experience. You can find, compare, and contrast feature lists elsewhere, but we simply wanted to provide a brief rundown of our first-month experiences using our ereaders: the Kobo, the Nook, the Kindle, and the Sony Reader.

Evviva Weinraub Lajoie: Kobo eReader Touch
While curled up in bed, I was notified that I had won an award. With two clicks, I could share the fact that I am awesome (ahem, a “Page Turner”) with all of my Facebook friends. It may sound silly, but I love that the Kobo offers rewards for reading.

My reason for not purchasing an ereader prior to this study had less to do with the cost of an ereader (though, back in the day, $300 for a “toy” seemed excessive), or which reader supported which format. Frankly, I rarely purchase books. Yes, I buy books, but I work in a library—so whatever I want to read, I can borrow, get through interlibrary loan, or pick up when I run around the exhibit hall at ALA. I will admit that lying in bed with a library edition of The Lord of the Rings is not a comfortable experience, but I am willing to suffer for a good read. I am an avid reader and a technophile (I run the library’s IT department, after all). I wanted to like ereaders. I just kept wondering what would make me want to switch.

Kobo has done some really interesting things with reading promotion, providing me with details on how many hours I have been reading a particular book (or how many hours I have been reading, period), how many pages I have turned, and how long each session normally takes—as well as how many books I have read, and how much of my library is complete. I love it! I have always loved statistics, and having something keep track of that for me is brilliant! For years, my friends and family have commented on how quickly I read. I have always shrugged it off as exaggeration, but when I look at the stats, I realize that perhaps I am not being honest about my reading problem.

Lots of reviews will tell you how easy it is to get books onto the Kobo from the public library (their very detailed explanation sheet on how to download articles and books, which is found on the Kobo itself, is a godsend), how painless it is to upload an article from a database into Adobe Digital Editions (it is), or how nice it is to be able to put your books and articles into collections to make browsing through things easier (it is). The Kobo store is easy to browse and has tons of content. What they do not have, I can get through Google Books. I love that I can “heart” books and add them to my shortlist (so I can get to the content I love more quickly—which will become more important once I begin purchasing more content). The way I can zoom into, and around, a PDF is easy and intuitive (though do not let anyone tell you that reading all PDFs on an ereader is awesome), and I love that I am one click away from sharing lines from a book directly with all of my friends.

I did not think I would love my Kobo this quickly, but it may not be for everyone. As I stood in Borders during the last days of their fire sale with four more cookbooks to add to my husband’s collection, I asked him if he wanted a Kobo for himself. He said, “Your excitement is contagious, but I am not ready yet.”

Laurie Bridges: Nook Simple Touch Reader
I have a bachelor’s degree in English, but you would never know it based on the meager number of books I have read over the past ten years. However, my reading habits (or lack thereof) changed last year when I acquired an iPad and rediscovered my love of leisure reading. Several months later, when the holidays rolled around, my mother sent me an email, “We’d like to get you an ereader, do you want one?” I responded, “An ereader? Why would I want an ereader? I have an iPad.” She said, “Oh yeah, I forgot,” and left it at that.

Fast-forward to receiving my Nook last month as part of our research study. I expected to like the Nook Simple Touch, but I did not expect to like reading on it more than on my iPad. But I do! I may have rediscovered reading through my iPad, but the Nook is turning me back into a reading addict.

I admit I am a little jealous of Evviva’s Kobo’s awards and statistics, but otherwise, the Nook is the perfect reading device. It fits easily into the front pocket of my purse, cradles nicely in my hand, is lighter than a paperback, and I never have to lift a finger to turn the pages while reading in bed. Before getting an ereader, I thought the absence of a backlight would be a deal breaker; however, I splurged on a $40 Verso Arc Light, and I do not regret it.

Much to my surprise, setting up the Nook to download public and academic library books has been easier and more intuitive than it was with the iPad—I just downloaded Adobe Digital Editions to my desktop computer, hooked up my Nook, and dragged and dropped the books onto the Nook icon.

One of my favorite Nook features is “Lend Me.” All the books that I have purchased from Barnes and Noble that are lendable are labeled “Lend Me”. The only person in my social circle right now is my dad, and I borrowed the Hunger Games trilogy from him—I look forward to adding more people (hint, hint).

Jane Nichols: Kindle 3G with Special Offers
Middle-child syndrome caught the best of me; I felt that my colleagues got better ereaders than I did. They had touch screens and theirs looked cuter. While I struggled with the five-way controller and keyboard to navigate to the web to find a free book, they were off and reading after quickly touching a few items on their screens. Finally, I found my way to Google Books, and then I realized I didn’t want to read a classic. I vented about the navigation to my work pal who has owned her Kindle for over a year. How could she possibly like it?! She waxed poetic about the E Ink, the enjoyment of reading, how much more reading she is doing, and the ease of buying books.

I took my Kindle home to try again. I envisioned myself happily sunning on my front porch engrossed in a really great book—an experience in short supply for far too long. I started again with the menu and ran through all the options, ticking off the presence or lack of features my colleagues mentioned about their readers. I noted the clear presence of the Kindle store and how I was continually pointed to it. I would just have to buy a book. I scoped around the best-sellers and settled on Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help.

My Kindle and I headed out into the sun. Anticipation for the new book bubbled up—so did curiosity about the ereading experience. My usual reading habits of easing into a book took over and I fiddled with the table of contents, read about the author, the epilogue. Then I dove in and was carried away. Reading session done, I noticed with regret that I did not get completely lost in the book or the experience. But I did not dislike reading on the Kindle.

As I have gained familiarity with the device, I have embraced Kindle’s great ebook reading experience. I love that the battery lasts so long, I can read in the sun, and with the app I can sneak in some reading at random moments. I realize this matches my life; that reading is now mobile. I’m sure I am not alone in fitting reading into the nooks and crannies of a busy life.

Despite overcoming my middle-childness, I am not blind to Kindle’s weaknesses. If backlighting were included, I would gladly use my Kindle to read in the dark. I am a bit annoyed that borrowing and lending books among my friends is difficult, as is reading PDF files. I find Kindle’s experimental features (web browser, MP3 player, and text-to-speech) just that—experimental and not crucial to my reading experience. Navigating through the controller continues to feel a bit unintuitive compared to touch screens. But none of these complaints interfere with my reading experience. Over time, as I learn more about my Kindle, they may become non-issues, just like the previous major block of not being able to borrow from my local public library. Now that Amazon’s agreement with OverDrive has been worked out, I have happily begun to borrow books. Now Amazon is moving from its domination of the leisure reading sector into the education sector with its Kindle Textbook Rental program. From there, I think it is a safe bet that Amazon will continue to figure out ways for me to embed my Kindle into my life.

Uta Hussong-Christian: Sony Reader Pocket Edition
My new Sony Reader Pocket Edition (or Pocket Reader) arrived at my West Michigan vacation destination on a bright, sunny, picture-perfect August beach day. Hours later, after a Pocket Reader-meets-very-wet-very-sandy-overly-friendly-canine misadventure, I paused to recognize that the much-touted claims of E Ink’s excellent readability in bright sunlight did hold up!

Like both Jane and Laurie, my own reading over the past decade had dropped off dramatically (life happens). I lamented this but simply could not get back on track. That all changed in December 2009 when I bought my first smartphone and was able to access and store content on a device that was with me always. Suddenly I was reading at the bus stop, while on the bus, in waiting rooms, or anytime I had a few minutes of downtime. While my pleasure reading skyrocketed, I could not comfortably do work-related reading; the iPhone screen is just too small to navigate around PDF files. And this is where I had very high hopes for my new Pocket Reader. Even though my Pocket Reader screen is only three inches by four inches, it works for me. I anticipate that much of my future initial reading of articles will likely be done in this way (no more stacks of printed articles taking up room in my backpack). The jury is still out on whether the Pocket Reader will work for in-depth reading and note taking.

Overall, I like the Pocket Reader. It is very compact and can easily slip into my small purse (I never did transition to large handbags). The aluminum frame is sturdy, but I did spring for the plain Sony Pocket Reader cover so I would not accidentally scratch the screen. The touch screen is quite responsive and the few buttons are unobtrusive. I can charge it from my laptop with the accompanying USB cable, but it did not come with a wall charger.

And while we are on the topic of cables, we come to my one big dislike. The Pocket Reader has no wireless capabilities (there is another Sony Reader that does include this feature, but the cost was too prohibitive to include it in the study). I knew it from the outset, but having gotten used to this with my iPhone, it has been a hard transition to plugging the device into my computer every time I want to load content. Given that I am often downloading articles at home as well as at work, I had to figure out how not to auto-sync the device with the Reader Library software loaded on multiple machines. No wireless capabilities also means that I have to have all my anticipated reading material loaded before any trip, if I do not intend to take my laptop. This will require a level of pre-planning that wireless access on many mobile devices (including other ereaders) is making obsolete. Ugh! Aren’t devices like ereaders supposed to simplify our lives?

Given the discovered ease of reading PDFs, a dedicated ereader (or tablet device) will now be required in my suite of mobile devices. Regardless of its other features, whether or not I stay with the Sony Pocket Reader depends in large part on if I can develop a workflow that makes sure I have the content I need on the device when I need it. Stay tuned!

The final four
At the end of the first month, it is clear that user-friendly features are important aspects of ereader adoption. All of us agree that touch-screen capabilities have moved beyond novelty and are now a basic expectation. None of us thinks ereaders need to have a keyboard; however, we would like to see the note-taking functionality on the Sony become available on other readers.

Prior to ownership, all of us thought we would want access to the web. While we agree that wi-fi (and even 3G) capabilities are essential for book downloading, we don’t feel that a web browser is key to the ereader experience. In fact, it is distracting and somewhat useless; rarely, if ever, are websites designed to be read in E Ink.

While we are not mourning the loss of reading print books, we are not yet at the point where we are using our ereaders exclusively. All of us agree that there are some formats that are best left to print. As with any new device, we are exploring where it fits into our lives and our workflows, and because we own our devices we feel free to make it do so. We can use them at our convenience and load whatever we wish.

The ereader has a different function than a tablet or a smartphone. In fact, it fills a different niche entirely. Its sole purpose is to provide us with the best mode for reading electronic materials, bundled up into a convenient, easy-to-carry package. The limited functionality encourages you to focus on the task at hand and does not allow you to spend your time looking for distraction, while at the same time filling that need for technology. It is perhaps the only uni-tasker, other than a fire extinguisher, that you’ll ever want to own.

[This article will appear in the October 13 issue of the LJ Academic Newswire. Registration is now open for LJ's virtual summit, Ebooks: The New Normal, to be held tomorrow, October 12.]

[Authors' note: A special thank you to the OSU Libraries for awarding our ereader research project with funding through the Robert Lundeen Library Faculty Development Award.]

Author Information
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie is Director, Emerging Technology & Services; Jane Nichols is Collection Development Librarian for Social Sciences/Humanities; Uta Hussong-Christian is Physical & Mathematical Sciences Librarian; and Laurie Bridges is Teaching and Engagement Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries
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Comments

  1. The Kindle also offers annotation, although previously it was a pain to do with the clunky Kindle keyboard. One nice feature is you highlighting (very easy to do) and annotations show up on you Amazon Kindle page on the web. This is especially handy if you want to cut and paste your highlights into a review or a paper.

  2. Jane Nichols says:

    Great tip Carmen! Good to know- I know there’s plenty more to learn.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Uta Hussong-Christian is one of the authors of an article in The Digital Shift detailing an experiment at Oregon State University examining the use of ereaders – by academic librarians. “Four Librarians, Four Ereaders, One Month” by Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, Jane Nichols, Uta Hussong-Christian, and Laurie Bridges, October 11, 2011. http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2011/10/11/four-librarians-four-ereaders-one-month/ [...]

  2. [...] And other article – four librarians review four eReaders. [...]

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